Officials: Items found belonged to missing California family

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office says recovered debris and personal items confirm that a vehicle seen plunging into a storm-swollen river in Humboldt County last week belonged to a family from Southern California that went missing while on a road trip from Portland to the Bay Area.

A sheriff's office statement Thursday says the vehicle and its occupants haven't been located in the Eel River but searchers have found numerous items from the vehicle's body and interior. They say the items are consistent with a family on vacation and unspecified items were identified by relatives of the Thottapilly family. They wrote:

RELATED: Witness saw SUV possibly belonging to Southern California family disappear into Humboldt County river

"Between the two search days the teams were able to cover approximately 12 miles of river bank. The teams were unsuccessful in locating the vehicle or any occupants from the vehicle. They were able to locate numerous items that appeared to have come from a vehicle body and interior. Some of these items were consistent with a Honda vehicle. Also located were various personal items that were consistent with a family traveling on vacation. Several items have been positively identified, by family members, as belonging to the Thottapilly family. These items were of a personal nature and will not be described further at this time, but it does confirm the fact the vehicle that was seen going into the river was that of the Thottapilly family."

The family - two parents and two children - was traveling to San Jose last week when they stopped communicating with relatives. The four have been identified as 42-year-old Sandeep, 38-year-old Soumya, 12-year-old Siddhanty and 9-year-old Saachi.

Witnesses, including Pat Berkowitz, reported a newer-model maroon vehicle went into the river about 1 p.m. Friday during stormy weather. The vehicle was southbound on U.S. 101, pulled into a turnout and went over the side and into the river.

RELATED: Missing family may have been swept away by river

Berkowitz recalls the terrifying moments he saw a vehicle roll over an embankment and disappear in the river north of Leggett.

"I heard my wife say 'oh, oh, oh' and at that time the car kept going straight and it was going off the pavement," he said.

Berkowitz attempted to go down the embankment 15 to 20 feet and recalls saying, "And so I'm yelling, 'hello, hello, anyone there?'"

Authorities say the SUV matches the description of the vehicle the Thottapilly family was traveling in, which was a maroon/burgundy 2016 Honda Pilot with California license plate 7MMX138.

Melanie Woodrow and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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